You can now find me writing here...

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Meeting the Future

doing a victory song and dance after installing a "self-healing" shield on my 
new camera (aka smart phone) 

"I've got military grade technology on my phone."

Daughter Evie: 

"You realize you had military grade technology the first time you bought duck tape, right?"

A favorite image from my new camera... I can communicate with people on it, as well.

I am now carrying a computer in my pocket that far supersedes the very first bulky desktop I purchased a quarter of a century ago. In computing power, it likely supersedes anything I have ever owned. And honestly speaking, you'll rarely find it in my pocket. I carry a bag pretty much full time now in order to create a little buffer zone between the device and my body. I'm still weird about stuff like that. I'm the woman, after all, who refuses to have a microwave oven in my kitchen.

I'm not a Luddite by any stretch of the word... I was cutting edge, once... the only person I knew for years who had a computer at home, online before the web was world-wide. But with the pace of things changing so rapidly, keeping up became less important than so many other options for spending my money. I grew comfortable, I guess. Having kids drew my eye away from the sparkle of technology for a while. 

I find myself thinking about my grandmother's kitchen, she is a constant presence in my memories of growing up... soft in her hugs, quiet in her speaking. She liked grits for breakfast, which I found horribly bland, but she never complained when I sprinkled them with sugar. She served Tang drink mix in those metallic cups. She had stacks of Ellery Queen Mystery magazines around her bed. I read the stories in them when I slept over, feeling very adult and sophisticated. Grandma loved to travel and she collected rocks everywhere she went. They sat in rows on a shelf in her hallway, each one perched atop a card that detailed date and location collected.  

I have a memory of sitting at Grandma's table, peppering her with questions.

Did cars exist when you were a kid?

The Model T, in fact, was first available to the public in 1908, the year of her birth.

How about airplanes? Did people fly?

The Wright brothers first flew five years earlier, in fact, and were distant cousins on her mother's side.

Grandma Skaggs was from the south, and in my child's mind, that meant there was a good chance she knew something, first person, about slavery.

Oh my, she laughed. That was a long time before me. But she went on to tell me they had a housekeeper when she was a little girl who had been born a slave.

At age 7, I could not imagine that in my lifetime I would ever see the kinds of changes my grandmother had witnessed. How awesome the world must have been for her after so many years of seeing things shiny and new. I had few models of reference for futuristic technology. I had not yet been introduced to science fiction at that point. 

Grandma had a portable electronic typewriter. It was tucked into a neat little blue and white case with a handle. It was the most modern thing in our family that had any value, as far as I could tell. (My mother got her first microwave oven when I was 7, as well. I created lightening--that was pretty cool--when I baked a tray of biscuits.) 

Grandma's typewriter looked like luggage, and it took my mind to places I did not know I could travel. With the sun to my back at Grandma's kitchen table, I would roll a piece of paper onto the carriage and dance in my chair as that little machine hummed. It jumped each time I punched a key, filling my mind and my fingertips with stories to be written.

At age 45, I'm on a road trip with my daughter, age 19. She's driving. I'm busy being fascinated by the fact that I can pull up a map on my camera (aka smart phone) and our vehicle becomes a moving blue dot on the map. "Google," I say, "Take us to..." and I proceed to read the address, our destination, off a slip of paper she has tucked into her purse.

My arm rests on the paper atlas that is always, ALWAYS tucked between the front seats in our car. I am telling my daughter that it's only a matter of time before I will be able to zoom in and view our vehicle in real time. "I'll be able to wave at myself," I say, resisting the urge to roll down the window and grin up at the sky at that moment, cheesing for some satellite camera that must exist.

"I can't believe that you, of all people, are actually talking to your phone," my daughter says.

It's true. I resisted communications upgrade for a long time. I was never much fond of the telephone, except perhaps during that brief period of late grade school through junior high, when I discovered that it connected me, a country kid, to my friends in the city. We shared a party line with my grandma, uncle, and cousins down the road for many years. What a luxury when the line became our own. I remember stretching the phone cord as far as it would go, curling up in the stack of clean laundry, and talking with my friends Kristy, Missy, Yvette, or Condi, for hours on end.

I've carried flip phones until they were obsolete.

"I'm having trouble making calls," I explain to the service provider.

"That's because we no longer support that technology," he kindly explains. "How long have you had that phone?"

Grandpa Sam, grandparent on the other side of my family, had the same black rotary phone my entire life. Even as a child, I would have told you the thing was antiquated and bulky. I sometimes had to make calls on it while waiting at Grandpa's house after piano lessons. The receiver was so heavy, I had to use both hands.

Now I think that even Captain Picard, who I fell in love with in my twenties, would be impressed by my new communication device. It takes lovely pictures, which is fortunate, as my 9-year-old digital camera (a gift, already used) began the march toward slow death sometime last year.

Grandma and I once had a conversation (I was nearing 30, by then) about the fads she'd seen come and go. "Those computers," she declared with heavy skepticism. She assured me they would pass, as well. 

Grandma was slowing down by then, her frailty often leading us to believe that she paid attention less to what was going on. I remembered, though, that she had always been a quiet one, and that when seated at the kitchen table, peppering her with questions, you could get even Grandma to tell a story.

I tell my daughter about plugging my computer into a phone line for the first time. I was nineteen, just her age. "Can you imagine," I say, "Having lived this long without the internet? Without text messaging? Without the whole world at your fingertips?"

She tells me to stop staring at my phone, lift my eyes, and look at the world around me as we drive by. I don't have to see it from a satellite picture, just because one is available to me. It's here in real time. See -- there's a grocery store, a restaurant, a round-about -- all identifiable even without Google's tidy labels on the image on my phone. 

I slip the computer back in my pocket, and the future meets us, still.

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